Entertainment

Feminist Criticism In Games: Thank You, Anita Sarkeesian

Emily Ash

Emily celebrates the positive impact feminist game critic Anita Sarkeesian has had on her life.

A lot of negativity has been published about Anita Sarkeesian’s video essay series Tropes vs Women in Video Games (TvW); there was negativity at the time, and there’s still negativity now. So, I thought I’d take the time to explain what Sarkeesian’s series did for me, and why I am so grateful for her sacrifice. I want to add a drop of positivity to this discussion, no matter how small.

Picture this: It’s 2014; I’m fifteen years old. At this point I’m already scared of online gaming because female names and voices are targeted and treated… differently. There’s a part of me that wants to give up on gaming, even though enjoy it so much. I just feel so unwelcome, and as a teenager that stuff is really hard to shake.

The community sent her death threats, doxed her, and even sent her images of her being raped by video game characters.

YouTube is where I found my middle ground. I didn’t have to risk the online bit – the scary part where people could discover I’m a girl any minute and start calling me slut and whore when I messed up or did well- instead, I can just watch other people play! This then introduces me to video game community at large, especially channels like The Warp Zone and Nerdcubed.

In fact, it was a recommendation from a Nerdcubed video that led me to my first TvW video. The series’ thumbnails made no attempt to hide that they were presented by a woman- Anita Sarkeesian’s face was prominent and proud.

I immediately wanted to hear what she had to say, astonished at her bravery. Remember, at this point I thought women simply couldn’t exist in video game communities, but here she was to prove me wrong.

Even more surprising? Her videos openly criticised the medium’s blatantly misogynistic tropes: The damsel in distress, female characters presented as rewards to the player, the sexualisation and objectification of women throughout most mature games… Honestly, these were problems I found in most of my media, so I wasn’t shocked by the series’ content. What did shock me was seeing a woman unapologetically criticise video games with authority like she’d never doubted her place in the community.

Of course, I didn’t realise that the community had rejected her. The first TvW video has 47 thousand dislikes to 15 thousand likes. In response to Sarkeesian’s thoughtful critique of games she clearly loved, the community sent her death threats, doxed her, and even sent her images of her being raped by video game characters.

I truly recommend you watch her series, and decide if it even slightly deserves the rage it whipped up.

As Sarkeesian discusses how sticking mascara and earrings on a blob doesn’t make it a nuanced female character, remember that this content made some people so mad she was forced to cancel a talk at Utah State University in 2014 due to terrorist threats. At the same time I was trying to find my place within the video game community, a woman speaking up about games’ misogynistic tendencies was being threatened with violence near-constantly.

But I didn’t see all that till much later. I saw a woman loving gaming, and it made me realise that I had a place in gaming too. It made me determined to not let angry men take away what I loved, to not let fear ruin my enjoyment of the medium. I saw, as cliché as it is, that I was not alone.

I also learnt that the problem with games wasn’t me

I learnt hope and determination from Tropes vs Video Games, for sure, but I also learnt that the problem with games wasn’t me. I believed there was something wrong with how I was playing the games. When you’re constantly told that you aren’t allowed to enjoy something that you love, the only logical solution your brain reaches is that you are the anomaly.

But screw all that; here was another woman who enjoyed gaming enough to analyse it, and demand better from it. It wasn’t that I was wrong to like this stuff, it was that people weren’t comfortable with me liking it for some dumb reason.

Again, I repeat: Suddenly, the problem wasn’t me.

Anita Sarkeesian is braver than any man that will ever put up content that attempts to destroy her, and I will defend her until my dying breath. Is she perfect? Why must she be perfect to simply criticise video games?

Anita Sarkeesian saved me from abandoning the medium I now want to base my career on

Google Anita and the first video results are people trying desperately to disparage her. She’s blamed for ‘ruining’ every game release with a hint of a decent female characterisation since 2012. It doesn’t help that Sarkeesian was one of the strongest voices behind #GamerGate. (And if anyone says anything about ethics in journalism, I will come wail outside your house at 3am until you start making better choices.)

To explain #GamerGate briefly, a female-presenting game developer named Zoë Quinn published a beautiful text-focused game based on her experience with depression. Lots of people got mad about that, and Quinn’s ex-boyfriend made an awful blog post about how they’d slept with a journalist for a positive review.

The abuse directed at Quinn exploded, and any female voice that spoke up against it became targets of an organised harassment campaign that had less to do with ethics in journalism than misogyny and hatred. Anita Sarkeesian was one of these voices who spoke out, and thus became a very high profile target because of her previous feminist work.

But now I’m veering into negativity, and this article isn’t about that. This article is a thank you note to Anita Sarkeesian.

Anita Sarkeesian saved me from abandoning the medium I now want to base my career on. My dissertation this year is about video games. She made me re-evaluate things I’d just accepted as part of being a gamer; she challenged me to not just accept the status quo in this medium I so adore. She made fifteen-year-old me feel allowed to love video games, and let me ignore the men that still- to this day- try to force me out of this community.

Thank you, Anita Sarkeesian.

Emily Ash 

Featured image courtesy of Liks Digital on Unsplash

Image use licence here. No changes made to this image.

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